NPR | Zaytuna College | Forging a Sustainable Faith in America

Courtesy of Zaytuna College

A clip from a report by NPR’s Barbara Bradley Haggerty about Zaytuna College and its uniquely American flavor in terms of ideas, outlook, and seating arrangements. I agree with Hamza Yusuf that I’ve also seen a return to moderation from many converts & newly practicing Muslims into a more sustainable faith outlook over the years.

Kingston, Ontario Mosque Signs

At first I was excited by this sign, thinking it was a sign of progress until I spoke to two sisters familiar with the area. Apparently, there did not used to be a barrier in the mosque and women were fully active and involved in the community. But in recent years, there has been a vocal minority pushing to have women put behind a barrier and this new partition may signal the beginning of that process. I was in Toronto last week but did not get a chance to go mosque-hopping, next time, insha’Allah.

Photos courtesy of two very dear friends.

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Pray-In Updates & Merging Oursides Blog

At the most recent pray-in at the Islamic Center of Washington DC, we made progress with some of the mosque officials. One male staffer held the front door open for us as we entered the main prayer hall. And when the women began to offer their sunnah prayers, the acting imam for that day defended our presence and our right to pray in the main hall outside of the “penalty box.

The acting imam also overruled one male staffer who said he wanted to call the police to remove us. The imam mentioned the hadith referring to the best rows for the men and women to pray and told the small circle of men who had gathered around that it was none of their concern where we prayed.

It’s so inspiring how the simple act of praying can be both an act of complete submission and revolutionary. Pray-ins present a direct challenge to those who wish to keep women marginalized in the Muslim community.

In today’s USA Today, journalist and author, Asra Nomani argues that mosques and other houses of worship should lose their tax-exempt status if the discriminate based on gender. The local and federal government has already legislated non-discrimination clauses for a variety of protected classes.

Going forward, I’m going to discontinue posting to my Oursides: Muslim Women’s Prayer Spaces photoblog and post here instead.

Unidentified mosque staffers

Sorry for the blurry pictures, one of the mosque officials (pictured left in an orange fleece from an earlier pray-in) was harassing me to not take photos while he himself proceeded to take photos of me. He encouraged us to pray in the penalty box, which was closed off more than usual with yellow caution tape.

The Accidental Activist: How to Respond to Assault & Death Threats

If you challenge an unjust status quo, those invested in maintaining things the way they are will attempt to silence, marginalize, and may even try to harm you through physical or verbal threats and violence. So you as an activist should try your best to prepare how to respond beforehand. Each situation is unique and it’s hard to predict how a situation will affect you but here’s some advice based on personal experience.

Prepare Beforehand

1. Before you undertake any action, make sure you go into a situation with correct intentions. For the religiously-inclined, saying a prayer and consulting with a spiritual advisor may be helpful.

2. If possible, go with a group, so someone can watch your back, and in case your judgment is clouded, two heads are often better than one. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, …”three’s company.”

3. Be prepared with your technology. Smartphone, digital camera, flip videocamera, etc. Make sure you’ve charged them beforehand and have them ready to use or record at a moment’s notice so you can capture the assaulter in action, which may be useful later on to prove your case. Don’t be afraid to take their pictures or film them as they are not shy to do the same to you.

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4. Always have an exit strategy. Don’t allow yourself to be cornered. If threatened, move to a more open space, preferably one with potential witnesses. Don’t be surprised if people do not offer to help you, they may have their own motivations. It’s been my experience at two separate mosques, that it is often the people who work at the mosque that are the least helpful and most likely to lie and coverup what happened to protect their colleagues and organization. I’m not generalizing this to all mosques, just my experience at two local mosques that when I sought out assistance to either find out information about my assaulter or to thank those who stood up for me that mosque officials were unhelpful.

If assaulted

1. Call 911 or the police and request that they come to the scene.

2. When the police arrive, if they ask you if you want to press charges, say “yes.” Sounds self-explanatory but in the immediate aftermath of an assault, so much is happening that you’re not always thinking clearly. When I was assaulted last year, the police officers asked me if I wanted to press charges and I said, “no, I don’t think so.” They pressed me if I was sure and I still declined. It was only hours later when I was at home and began to process what had transpired that my mind became clearer and I did then want to press charges against the man who attacked me. My reasoning was to send a message to those thugs that it’s not okay to assault anyone and so that they might think twice before doing that again.

3. Allow the police to gather the identifying information from the person who assaulted you and get a copy for yourself. This is crucial.

So what do you do if you decide after the fact that you want to press charges

1. Well, in Virginia, you must go to the County Magistrate and fill out some forms indicating the nature of your complaint. This can be a major stumbling block because in order to file a complaint, you will need identifying material on your attacker including full name and date of birth. Yes, that’s something you might not have learned in your self defense class that in addition to shouting “Stop!” and “No!” don’t forget to say “Excuse me, can I have your full name and date of birth?” Other information that is helpful is driver’s license number or license plate number, home address, and place of work. This information tends not to be something you think about while you are being assaulted. And even if you ask for or try to obtain this information, the other party is usually not very forthcoming for obvious reasons.

How to get around this? If you know where your attacker lives or works, you can have a police officer confront the individual and obtain the information you need. In my case, I knew the man who assualted me worked at the mosque. One day after the assault I went to the mosque for Friday prayer and saw the man that assaulted me setting up orange cones, directing traffic, and opening and closing the gates to the parking lot. So after we prayed, I went over to the police officers who help direct traffic around the mosque on Fridays and explained my situation to them. They listened and one very nice officer walked back to the mosque with me and asked me to discreetly point out my attacker. The officer confronted the man and took down all the pertinent identifying information for me to use to file my complaint with the magistrate. Continue reading “The Accidental Activist: How to Respond to Assault & Death Threats”

The Muslim Link | Biased Against Pray In

Fatima Thompson and I were interviewed by Minhaj Hasan, editor of the Muslim Link, by telephone this past Monday about the Pray In movement, which seeks to counter the marginalization of women in the Muslim community as can be blatantly witnessed in the substandard accommodation and exclusion of women from public space, particularly in mosques.

The title of the article conveys the paper’s bias: Breaking the Ranks or Peaceful Protest? It is clear that the writer(s) using the generic pseudonym “Muslim Link Staff” believes that the Pray In movement is the former i.e. breaking the ranks and sowing seeds of fitna and dissension with the Muslim community. Thus, the article while trying hard to give off the appearance of fairness and while admitting that the Pray In cause is correct and “closest to the sunnah” does it best to try to discredit the Pray In movement and its members.

Shortly after this incident, Thompson set-up a Facebook page and founded a small movement now called “Pray In”. The purpose of the group is to “end gender segregation” in the masjid…

Small movement and an “end to gender segregation?” In fact, the movement is spreading and as more people hear about it, they are joining, sharing their own stories of encountering similar issues of lack of space, downright dangerous or shoddy conditions, and or exclusion entirely from the masjid and ask how they can begin their own Pray In movements in their localities.

The lack of explanation in the quote “end gender segregation” leaves open to the reader especially amongst conservative audiences like those targeted by the Muslim Link that Pray In seeks to have men and women pray side-by-side and female imams. This is connotation and implication is very familiar to those within conservative circles. What is meant, by Pray In, in terms of ending gender segregation is a return to the the practice “closest to the sunnah” whereby the rows are arranged as they were in the time of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) and his closest companions and in many masajid up until today without recourse to degrading barriers, partitions, separate rooms, balconies, and basements.

Their first “Pray In” protest at the Islamic Center of Washington DC took place in late February. About ten women prayed outside the women’s space behind the men’s congregation; men who came in late formed lines behind the protesting women.

There were informal and independent pray in protests before the one at the Islamic Center of Washington in February. An eyewitness observing the protest from the back of the mosque on Mass Ave recalls that there were about 20 women not 10. Furthermore, this eyewitness discounts the claim that any of the men that arrived late formed a line behind the women. Continue reading “The Muslim Link | Biased Against Pray In”

Muslim Link: Breaking the Ranks or Peaceful Protest?

The Muslim Link has finally decided to take up the issue of the Pray In movement through an article in its most recent edition: Breaking the Ranks or Peaceful Protest?

The article gives off the appearance of being fair and balanced, which those unfamiliar with the issues might believe, but the paper’s bias is clearly evident. I’ve written a post to respond directly to some of the inaccuracies but am waiting to see if I can publish on MuslimMatters first before publishing it here.

Scanning through the archives I see issues surrounding the access and accommodation of women  in prayer space and in our communities has been an issue I’ve been concerned about for years:

November 2006: Women’s Jihad – Praying in the Masjid

August 2007: The Masajid Around Seattle

October 2007: Second Class Believers: An Unfortunate Sign at the Masjid

June 2008: Praying on Mountaintops in New Zealand

December 2008: Modern Muslim Chivarly

February 2010: The Penalty Box: Muslim Women’s Prayer Spaces

Outside the Box: A Beautful Jumu’ah

Stand In at D.C. Islamic Center

New Photoblog: Muslim Women’s Prayer Spaces